Do you lead a team that is made up of mostly Introverts? Do you struggle to connect and motivate them? When I coach leaders or read articles about how to lead introverted employees, it seems as if people think Introverts are a mystery that need to be solved. 

My goal is to demystify the process for a win-win outcome.

My Experience with Introverted Teams

I worked in a global IT department of a Fortune 500 company for over nine years. We rolled out the Myers and Briggs personality assessment to the IT department as well as our Accounting Center, with the goal of building relationships and improving communications across teams. This was not a formal study. But it was interesting to analyze the breakdown of personality types and temperaments by team and by role to determine if there were any commonalities. 

What I learned:

  • Our department had many teams that consisted of all introverted employees with an extraverted leader, or all the employees and the leader were introverted. 
  • Some leaders were struggling to communicate with their teams which was causing anxiety for both the teams and the leader.
  • Some leaders were leveraging the strengths from different personality types to create more balanced teams for better overall project results.
  • Taking the time to understand people’s personality types allowed the leadership teams to build stronger relationships and adapt communication styles to provide clarity for their peers and employees.

The CIO’s Leadership Team, HR Business Partner and I did not expect to see that over 60% of our employees were Introverts. For me, discovering that we had a department with a large population of Introverts was another data point for me to consider as we were creating employee development programs.   

Here’s what I learned about motivating introverted teams.  

Tactic #1 - Understand Motivational Preferences

Introverts are driven intrinsically by their values and what feeds their hearts and minds versus the more extrinsic motivators such as money and praise. For leaders managing an Introvert, the following steps can build a solid foundation between you and your introverted employees:

  • Create a safe space for them to share their opinions, ideas, or reflections on their job or career.
  • Take time to listen and understand their preferences even if they are unique from others on your team. This will build trust and drive motivation.
  • Provide information in advance of your one-on-one conversations. This allows your employee time to prepare their comments and plan their words. The result is a meaningful and productive conversation for both of you. 

Tactic #2 - Focus on Career Development 

Our department was going through a restructure and the overall motivation level was low. We created a one-day development conference for all employees with multiple speakers and breakout sessions on a variety of topics, from technology trends to leadership development. The CIO’s emphasis was on employee skill development for current and future roles. The employee was in the driver’s seat of their development experience. 

This conference was so popular it became an annual development event that people talked about throughout the year. Employees really appreciated the day of reflection on their life and career the conference gave them, which was supported by leadership.  What Introvert doesn’t enjoy some purposeful reflection time? As an INFJ, I know I love it! 

Tactic #3 - Provide Recognition

Does your company have a rewards and recognition program? How would you rate the effectiveness of the program? We thought our program was successful until we started to ask people how they preferred to be recognized. 

In my role as Learning & Development Manager, I utilized the data from our annual employee satisfaction survey to determine if employees felt recognized for the work they did, had the education they required to perform their job, and felt like there were opportunities to grow within the company.  

Based on these scores, the CIO’s leadership team made the decision to revamp the rewards and recognition program. The results provided insights into how a more heavily introverted department wants to be recognized. Here are a few highlights:

  • Small or Private Recognition - The number one request was to have rewards presented in front of immediate work teams only, versus the big town hall meeting with 400 employees which caused anxiety instead of excitement.
  • Money vs Thank Yous - Employees had to assign a dollar amount to the current awards that were given out quarterly. The majority of employees assigned a much lower amount to the awards then what was currently budgeted. Leaders often make the assumption that everyone is driven by money when they are not.
  • General vs Personalized - Introverts are driven by their internal values. This is why a large portion of employees wanted more personalized, individual recognition from their manager acknowledging their work. Simply stated, they wanted a “thank you” from their manager for a job well done - yes, a handwritten card that they could keep for posterity. Employees felt satisfaction knowing they were making a difference and that their work was adding value to the team and organization. 

I could debate that all human beings on some level want to know that they matter and that the work they do adds value in some way. However, what leaders need to think about is the delivery and personalization of the recognition, so that it makes a difference to an extravert and Introvert.  

Solving the Motivation Mystery

Many years ago, I had an Organizational Psychology professor who was fairly bold and radical in his teaching style. One day a student fell asleep in the middle of class and he was easy to spot because we had to sit in a circle. 

Our professor asked us if the student sleeping was motivated, and we all said the obvious answer which was “no” because he was sleeping. Our professor disagreed. He said, “He IS motivated. He’s motivated to sleep, he’s just not motivated to participate in class. My job is to figure out how to shift his motivation.” 

What I’ve learned working in the learning and development field for over fifteen years is this: do you really need to motivate your introverted employees, or do you need to shift the way you communicate, recognize and develop those employees?

Do that, and the motivation will follow.

Laura Antos
Laura is a passionate, enthusiastic lifestyle coach, speaker and blog writer. She is an INFJ who enjoys helping people see their potential and achieve their life goals by creating repeatable processes to make daily living simpler and more enjoyable. When she is not coaching or writing, you will find her practicing her moves on the ballroom dance floor for her next amateur dance competition.